VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Resort City firefighters say if a building collapse similar to the June disaster in Surfside, Florida were to happen here, they're now better prepared to respond.
In the last six weeks, the Virginia Beach Fire Department added two identical vehicles, called rescue companies, to its fleet. The vehicles are designed to respond to fire entrapments, vehicle entrapments, water rescues and building collapses, among other emergencies.
"It's the Swiss Army knife of vehicles," said Capt. Jon Rigolo, a 38-year veteran of the department who works on the Technical Rescue team at Fire Station 7, near the Virginia Beach Town Center.
Also described as a "big toolbox," Capt. Rigolo says the roughly $1 million vehicles were specifically designed with Virginia Beach firefighters in mind, a process that took about two years. One is located at Fire Station 7, the other at Fire Station 3 just off International Parkway.
Virtually every space along the outside of the trucks is used for tool storage.
"We carry specialized saws and rigging and things like that so we can either cut our way in, lift our way in, whatever we need to do to gain access to someone that might be trapped," said Capt. Rigolo, who joined Virginia Task Force 2 in responding to the Florida condo collapse earlier this month. "What this also brings are the firefighters assigned to it. All the firefighters assigned to this truck are at the top, or peak if you will, of technical rescue training."
Then there's a walk-in space in the back for more storage and seating so those highly-trained firefighters can get dressed en route to a rescue, a critical time-saving measure when seconds can mean life or death.
The space, Rigolo says, makes these vehicles unique in the Hampton Roads region, but not for too long. He tells News 3 neighboring departments, including Norfolk, have already been out to take a look.
"Most likely they'll work off our designs and then make adjustments for their city," he said. "This is the truck that will most likely be the model for rescue companies for the foreseeable future in this general area."
For Virginia Beach, the hope is to get 20 years of service out of these newest vehicles, which when fully loaded with equipment are the most costly in the department's fleet, Rigolo says.
But if it helps save lives, the Technical Rescue team's mission, his belief is it's all worth it.
"That's what it's all about is dependability. That truck will start and run down the road and do what it's supposed to do when we get to an incident scene."